Berwyn Heights worries county buses could bring traffic, noise
Town Council wary as county plans to triple bus service for route with low ridership
Berwyn Heights officials are worried that a Prince George's County plan to expand bus service through the town will bring traffic and noise while failing to achieve the goal of increasing ridership.
The county Department of Public Works and Transportation plans to implement a new system of routes for its TheBus service starting Dec. 20, in an effort to improve ridership in underserved areas and decrease redundancy with Metrobus routes offered by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.
While one county bus currently travels through Berwyn Heights each hour from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekdays there is no Metrobus service inside the town the new plan would reallocate buses to bring three county buses per hour. County officials hope more frequent service to the town will encourage more residents to take the bus, but some town officials believe the bus could bring little more than annoyance.
"Every  minutes, there's going to be a bus driving by people's houses," Mayor Cheye Calvo said at Monday's Town Council work session. "It is going to be a change in frequency that is a rather significant one ... When I see the bus right now, it's empty."
Under the new plan, TheBus Route 16 would make three stops an hour in town, replacing the current hourly trips along Route 15, said county transit planning chief Carl Schuettler. He said the county hopes to improve paltry ridership along the route by making the bus more visible and available to residents.
Schuettler said Route 15, which goes through Greenbelt and Berwyn Heights, ranked 22nd of 25 TheBus routes in total ridership over the last five fiscal years, with just 200,155 total recorded trips, or roughly 128 trips per weekday.
"If the bus is coming along every hour, not many people will ride it," Schuettler said. "But if it comes along every 20 or 30 minutes, more people might jump in."
Town Council members said they often see only one or two people on the bus when it rides through town, and Councilman James Wilkinson said he found it counterintuitive that the county would triple service for a route that is already in low demand.
"I don't see the huge uptick in ridership," Wilkinson said, adding that he favored running the route on the edge of town. "[That way], if you need it, you'll still have it."
Other council members worried that by rejecting the added service, they could endanger the town's chances of receiving bus service it might need in the future. The council and mayor voted 4-1, with Wilkinson opposing, to issue an official stance to the county, saying the town won't oppose the new route, provided that the county reviews it after a few months to determine whether it has actually increased ridership.
The town will issue its suggestions in advance of a county-hosted public hearing, scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Greenbelt Community Center, located at 15 Crescent Road. The public has until Nov. 12 to submit written testimony, and county officials expect to implement the new plan Dec. 20.